Avery Bradley grew up in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, and this will always be his home, he says.
He used to ride his bike up to the Al Davies Boys and Girls Club on South 17th Street. He would shoot hoops on the courts there, or next door at Stanley Elementary School every day.
Long before the former Bellarmine Prep standout carved out an impressive NBA Career — he begins his ninth season in the league as a shooting guard for Los Angeles Clippers next month — he played basketball on blacktops in Tacoma.
Sunday, Bradley returned to the neighborhood he was raised in, and hosted a giveaway for several hundred kids growing up in Tacoma now.
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He handed out free coats and backpacks in connection with Operation Warm, arranged a dance contest for the kids, and installed several inflatable toys that lined the grass field behind the Boys and Girls Club.
“It’s my opportunity to give back to the community, which is very important to me,” Bradley said. “It’s always something I do kind of behind the scenes every single year, but this year, I wanted to start something new like a block party giveaway.”
Bradley said he sends coats to local elementary and middle schools, and the Boys and Girls Club, on a yearly basis, but wants to continue to host this type of event in the future.
“I’m most excited about the community coming together,” Bradley said. “I grew up right on this street. I only had one coat growing up, so that’s the story behind me wanting to give back coats every single year, and backpacks.”
He said he wants the kids to be excited about school, because that’s where his success story started.
“I always share with the kids, anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” Bradley said. “I was these kids once upon a time. I had goals and dreams to not only make it to college, but my end goal was to make it to the NBA.
“I feel like I gave myself the opportunity (to succeed), but it starts with school, and it starts with being focused and surrounding yourself with good people and a good community.”
That’s why he wanted to throw a block party this year. He shared the idea with his friend Darnell Williams, a Curtis High School product, and organized the event with Williams’ mother Sierra Raynor, the director at the Al Davies branch.
“I just want to inspire the kids, and let them know that I was them and anything is possible,” Bradley said. “It honestly is. It just takes hard work.”
Following his high school career at Bellarmine Prep and later Findlay Prep (Nev.), Bradley played one season at Texas before he was selected No. 19 overall in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics.
The former NBA All-Defensive First Team pick spent seven seasons in Boston, last year with the Detroit Pistons and was traded to the Clippers in January.
Bradley said he is glad to return to the West Coast for a team that will travel to play the Portland Trail Blazers twice this season, where his family can more easily attend games.
“My dream school was always Texas from when I was a young kid,” Bradley said. “I always told my mom, ‘I’m going to the University of Texas. I’m going.’ Once I got the letter, I ended up going there.
“And, I always wanted an opportunity to play (professionally) in the northwest or just on the West Coast. So, to be playing in Los Angeles in front of my family — my family gets to see me twice a year in Portland — it’s exciting.”
Bradley said he is also back to full strength after having surgery to repair abdominal and thigh muscles in March, and is ready for the Clippers’ season to begin in October.
“I’m going into my ninth season in the NBA,” Bradley said. “I would consider myself a vet. I’ve been through it all, man. I’ve had a positive career. I’ve been blessed to be able to play this many years.
“Going into my ninth season, I’m excited about it, and this is going to be a big year for me and my team.”